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CAR's new leader orders military crackdown

14 January 2014, 06:39

Bangui - Central African Republic's new interim leader deployed hundreds more soldiers in the capital Bangui on Monday with orders to shoot troublemakers in an attempt to end months of religiously-fueled violence.

Fighting, attacks on mosques and the looting of Muslim-owned shops have persisted in Bangui since the resignation of rebel leader-turned-president Michel Djotodia last Friday under intense international pressure.

Djotodia seized power last March at the head of the Muslim Seleka rebel coalition, unleashing a wave of killings and looting targeting the majority Christian population which in turn sparked revenge attacks by "anti-balaka" Christian militia.

The Red Cross said its workers had collected 10 bodies from the streets over the weekend and it had treated some 60 wounded people at the Community Hospital in Bangui. Sporadic violence has continued despite the presence of 1 600 French troops and 4 000 African Union peacekeepers.

Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, the head of the National Transitional Council (CNT) who has taken over the presidency until a new leader is chosen this month, told journalists he had launched an operation to restore calm to the riverside city.

"The robberies are over. The chaos is over. The Central African people must regain their honour," Nguendet told a ceremony attended by hundreds of military officers, some of them wearing civilian clothes, at a gendarmerie barracks in Bangui.

"If they continue, I order you in the name of the Republic to shoot at point blank range so that order can reign in this country," he said.

In the chaos after thousands of Seleka fighters swept from the north, many soldiers abandoned their posts and drifted into the civilian community. Nguendet said any military officer who failed now to report for duty would be considered a deserter.

Dozens of army officers turned up to register for service at the barracks in the centre of town on Monday. Nguendet said he was increasing the military presence on the streets of Bangui by 400 men and launching a 24-hour rapid reaction team with an emergency hotline for residents to report violence.

Lost faith

The United Nations estimates that months of fighting in the landlocked former French colony has displaced around 1 million people, or just over a fifth of the population.

More than 1 000 people were killed in December alone, rights group Amnesty International said.

Under a transitional charter, Nguendet will lead Central African Republic for a maximum of two weeks until the CNT chooses an interim president to steer the country to post-coup elections, due before the end of this year.

Djotodia resigned at a regional summit in Chad last Friday after it became clear that France and Central African nations, which provide the backbone of the African Union peacekeeping mission, had lost faith in him. He has gone into exile in Benin.

"There are 10 days left to find a new president. We have to move quickly," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told BFM television. "You cannot leave a country without a leader."

Traffic in central Bangui returned to normal, shops reopened and people went about their business on Monday. However, there were isolated reports of unrest, particularly in residential neighbourhoods towards the north of the city.

There was a standoff outside state radio's headquarters where Seleka fighters guarding the building refused to hand their weapons to French forces. The gunmen soon departed however and African Union forces took up positions outside the station.

Nguendet has told anti-balaka and Seleka leaders their men will be integrated into the national army in a disarmament programme to be launched once a new government is in place.

At the weekend, Nguendet visited a camp at Bangui airport - home to an estimated 100 000 people displaced by the fighting - to assure inhabitants it was now safe to return to their homes.

Aid groups have warned of a possible humanitarian disaster in Bangui, where an estimated 500 000 people are in camps without sufficient running water and sanitation.

- Reuters


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